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Review: Bigger

October 12, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Based on the true story of the men who built an entire fitness empire from the ground up, Bigger dramatizes the life of Joe Weider (Tyler Hoechlin) and his younger brother Ben (Aneurin Barnard), a pair of working class Jewish kids from Montreal who founded the Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition, and helped turn the profession into a respected sport.

Growing up poor in the 1920s and ’30s, and faced with creeping anti-Semitism boiling over from Europe at the time, Joe initially starts working out as a kid so that he can stand his ground against schoolyard bullies. As a young adult, Joe channels his fascination with the male form into Your Physique, an independent fitness and health magazine for men.

While Joe’s interest in male bodies initially leads many to assume he is gay, with his magazine at first being written off as a work of homoerotica, the success of the publication places the two brothers at the centre of the larger fitness industry. The Weiders are able to move their business to California, where they can be closer to their celebrity clients, and the pinnacle of their careers comes in 1965, when they start Mr. Olympia as a challenger to the already established Mr. Universe competition.

The film takes us through a sort of “greatest hits” of Joe’s life, including his relationship to Hollywood pin-up girl Betty Brosmer (Julianne Hough), who became his wife and confidante for the rest of his life, as well as his discovery of a then-unknown Austrian bodybuilder by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger (Calum Von Moger), whose career was launched when he won the title of Mr. Olympia in 1970. The film also shows how Joe was unafraid of embracing social change, including putting an African-American model on the cover of his magazine, at a time when that was still unheard of.

Tyler Hoechlin does fine work in the leading role, developing a specific cadence of speech and sticking with it to offer an engaging portrayal of Joe Weider, and Julianne Hough does appealing work alongside him. Newcomer Calum Von Moger bares strong resemblance to Schwarzenegger in terms of physicality, and is able to nail Arnold’s distinctive voice as well, without merely feeling like an impersonator. The film also features another charismatic supporting turn in the form of Kevin Durand, who has a blast chewing up the scenery in the antagonistic role of Bill Hauk, an appallingly racist rival magazine publisher whose raging anti-Semitism fuels his jealous hatred of the Weiders.

The film is structured with Joe as an older man in 2008, played by Robert Forster, attending the funeral of his brother and being interviewed by journalist Michael Steere (DJ Qualls), who went on to write the biographical book Brothers of Iron. It’s not exactly revelatory in its approach, and the storytelling is fairly by the numbers, but Bigger is still a mildly entertaining and fairly well acted biopic that does a decent job of detailing the rags to riches story of its protagonists.

Bigger is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas in Toronto.

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